All-Ireland SFC Round 1: Clare 0-9 Donegal 0-14
Donegal brushed aside any previous misgivings when kicking six pf the last seven points to commence their All-Ireland campaign in ideal fashion in Cusack Park, Ennis on Saturday afternoon.
Following a tumultuous start to 2023 that included one victory in 10 competitive matches and an alteration in management, it had to take major resilience for the squad to turn things around according to selector Paddy Bradley afterwards.
“We’re just delighted to get the result because we’ve obviously been on a bad run the last while. There’s serious leadership in this group and I know that may sound funny considering the bad run that we are on. But that’s the one thing I’ll say about these boys, they are a very resilient bunch and while they were very, very disappointed about the National League and the Down game, it didn’t deter them from coming to training every night and just giving their best.
“There’s serious belief in what they’re about and there is serious hunger and desire to do well for Donegal. So I’m just delighted that all the hard work paid off today.”
A dominant second half in which Aidan O’Rourke’s side outscored hosts Clare by 0-11 to 0-3 was the perfect tonic following an indifferent opening period.
The home side, aided by Pearse Lillis, captain Eoin Cleary and Keelan Sexton had carved out a 0-5 to 0-1 advantage entering the second quarter and it could have been more only for Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton to excellently stop a Sexton shot from the edge of the square.
Trailing by 0-6 to 0-3 at the break, the Ulster side re-emerged in confident mood, with Ciaran Thompson and Oisin Gallen to the fore on the scoreboard to reel in the Banner by the 48th minute at 0-7 apiece, before finally hitting the front for the first time on the hour mark through Hugh McFadden.
Home substitute Darragh Bohannon did level the tie once more a minute later but by now the momentum had clearly shifted towards the visitors who swiftly moved through the gears for the remainder.
Points from Gallen (2), Thompson, Caolan McGonagle, Luke McGlynn and Rory O’Donnell ensured that Donegal finished in style to get back to winning ways ahead of a home tie against Bradley’s native county Derry in a fortnight’s time.
“I suppose whenever you take on a job at club or county, you know there’s the possibility of facing your own. It’s part and parcel of management so my hat is firmly in the Donegal camp and I’m really looking forward to preparing the team over the next two weeks to put our best foot forward.
“We’ve got to now try and back this performance up against Derry which is going to be a huge challenge. Derry are obviously coming off the back of a second Ulster title so they’re going to be buoyant but we have them in Ballybofey, where we have a very good record.
“So we’re really looking forward to it as we are obviously buoyant ourselves after that victory today.”
CLARE: S Ryan; C Rouine, C Brennan, R Lanigan; C Russell, J Malone, C O’Dea; C O’Connor, D O’Neill; D Walsh, E McMahon (0-2, one free), P Collins; E Cleary (0-2, two frees), K Sexton (0-1), P Lillis (0-2). Subs: D Bohannon (0-1) for Collins (21), A Griffin (0-1) for O’Connor (47 mins), B McNamara for O’Neill (52 mins), I Ugwueru for Walsh (67 mins), M McInerney for O’Dea (68 mins), M Doherty for Lanegan (73 mins).
DONEGAL: S Patton; M Curran, B McCole, JR Molloy; O Doherty, E Bán Gallagher (0-1), C Ward; C McGonagle (0-2), R O’Donnell (0-1); D Ó Baoill, J Brennan, C Thompson (0-4); C O’Donnell, H McFadden (0-1), O Gallen (0-4). Subs: J McGee for Molloy (h-t), C McColgan for Ward (49 mins), L McGlynn (0-1) for C. O’Donnell (54 mins), M O’Reilly for Doherty (73 mins).
Referee: J Molloy (Galway).